Examining the Effects of Telehealth in Rural Networks
How Telehealth Is Making a Difference in Rural Areas
Telehealth is changing the way rural communities think about healthcare. These areas often lack access to healthcare centers, including hospitals and primary care facilities. Patients may not have the means to travel long distances to get the care they need. This can be particularly troubling for pregnant women and new mothers that experience difficulties with their pregnancy. Telehealth can diminish some of these barriers by giving patients the means to correspond with healthcare professionals in real-time, including live video and audio and patient monitoring. Learn more about how telehealth is making a difference in rural communities.
Why Accessing Healthcare Services Can Be So Difficult in Rural Areas
Around 20% of the U.S. population lives in a rural area, which makes it difficult to administer healthcare to these patients on a timely basis. It may take patients several hours or more to reach the closest hospital or healthcare specialist. For these patients, accessing care usually means calling out of work and securing reliable transportation to the healthcare facility, which isn’t always a realistic option.
This lack of access to healthcare can often have the biggest effect on children and pregnant women. If a woman experiences a complication with their pregnancy, they may not have the time or resources to get to the closest hospital or maternity ward. This has led to a rise in infant mortality rates in rural areas. Missouri has long had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, with rates as high as 7.5 babies per 1,000 births in 2007.
How Missouri Is Expanding Access to Healthcare with Telehealth
Missouri recently passed a new piece of legislation that eliminates many of barriers to telehealth services, including real-time communication with healthcare professionals and patient monitoring. Pregnant women can use these services to keep in touch with their doctors as their due date approaches. If the woman experiences a complication, they can chat with their doctor in real-time and get the medical advice and assistance they need without having to travel long distances.
The bill forces private insurance companies to reimburse telehealth services just like an in-person visit. The bill makes it clear that insurers “shall not deny coverage for a health care service on the basis that the health care service is provided through telehealth if the same service would be covered if provided through face-to-face diagnosis, consultation, or treatment.” The bill also expands post-partum drug treatment for new mothers from two months to twelve months after the delivery. Additionally, government assistance programs have increased the state’s access to smartphones, giving patients the telemedicine equipment they need to remotely consult with doctors.
These changes have enabled mothers across the state to receive the care they need on a timely basis. With more access to smartphones and more telehealth reimbursement, women can consult with doctors in real-time and get the care they need on a timely basis. Since the bill was passed, the state has lowered its mortality rates to the national average.
Missouri is a shining example of how telehealth can make a difference in rural areas where access to healthcare tends to be limited. If more states would be willing to introduce legislation like the Missouri bill that reduces obstacles to telehealth services, we could see reduced mortality rates across the country. Forcing insurance companies to reimburse telehealth visits and other telemedicine services makes these options more affordable and accessible to patients. While this is a step in the right direction, there’s more work to be done in the years to come.